Last month, my husband Mark ordered a chess set. He was inspired to start playing again after we watched The Queen’s Gambit, a great Netflix series based on the life of chess prodigy Beth Harmon. We generally are not “game people”. In fact, we’ve been known to roll our eyes when friends suggest game nights. But these long pandemic nights have been begging for a “mindful distraction” from it all.

A love/hate relationship

My brain feels pretty tired at the end of the day and while I recognize that chess can be an exercise in mindfulness, I’m trying to figure out if I love it or hate it. There’s something about chess that I really like. It has a mood, a sort of cozy ambiance. We set up our new chess set under a lamp on the dining room table. At night, we light candles, play records and sip beverages as Mark teaches me the game. The smooth, carved wooden pieces feel nice to the touch and I’m constantly toying with the slight pull of the magnets that hold the pieces to the board. And I love having something to look forward to that doesn’t involve a screen.

Yet aside from the aesthetic and sensory pleasures of the game, there is the “hate” part. It’s really hard…mentally exhausting…and a little stressful. While I’m loving the idea of chess, having to concentrate so intensely and think ahead for each move sometimes makes me want to cry. And then there’s the sitting and the waiting. Mark, who is a very patient and thorough teacher, often takes pictures of the board so we can go back and review my opportunities and mistakes. These teaching moments are helpful but also painful when I’m tapped out. Sometimes I pretend to be listening while plotting my escape from the table.

Why is sitting still so hard?

I’ve always had a hard time sitting still. My mind is constantly pulled. When I woke up at 6 am on this beautiful Sunday morning, my mind started spinning with ideas about getting things done…work, exercise, meditation, laundry, groceries, house projects and more. That’s exactly why I need to focus on mindfulness.

There’s something calling me

Still, I’m sitting across the room from the chess set and it’s my move. We’ve started taking lots of breaks so that I don’t get tired and grumpy and throw the game just to end it. Maybe I’ll mosey over and make my next move. I’m still not sure if chess is the right game for me, but there is something about it that calls me so I’ll stick with it for a while. If it turns out I can’t hang, well, check mate. Maybe I’ll buy a jigsaw puzzle or paint-by-numbers kit.

Do you have a mindful distraction?

With increasing COVID numbers and tighter restrictions on social gathering, it might be a good time to think about a few mindful distractions. If you’re not on computer screen overload, you can even play chess online for free at Chess.com.

Other (online) mindful distraction ideas

Here’s a fun article: 32 fun, free things to do online if you’re stuck at home during a second lockdown.

Merriam-Webster’s free online word games and quizzes.

Our local Central Oregon Community College’s Continuing Education Department offers a rich variety of online personal enrichment courses you might want to explore.

Also, check out:

Deschutes County Historical Society’s recently released documentary Let There Be Light: The History of Bend’s Water Pageant.

Crook County’s A.R. Bowman Museum’s Fall Lecture Series Videos

Warm Springs’ KWSO Radio podcast series.

High Desert Museum from Home’s digital, family-friendly programs.

Thanks for reading and let us know if you’ve found a mindful distraction to help mind your mind during these uncertain times. Stay safe, well and mindfully distracted.

Linda Quon is Vice President and Director of Communication at Quon Design and Communication. Linda is working to promote everyday mental health awareness in partnership with Deschutes County Health Services and Central Oregon Health Council — which includes providers and health advocates from Crook, Jefferson, and Deschutes Counties. Linda was born and raised in Southern California and moved to Central Oregon with her husband and two children in 2005. Her mother lived with Schizophrenia and bi-polar disorder and her oldest brother also experienced bi-polar disorder. With support from family, friends, therapists and primary care providers, Linda has been navigating the world of mental illness most of her life — including her own struggles with mild anxiety and depression. Linda is proud to work as an advocate for mental health and a  blogger for Mind Your Mind Central Oregon.

Chess photo by Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash